The Man From Glengarry by Ralph Connor
Chapter IV. The Ride for Life
The night was clear, with a touch of frost in the air, yet with the feeling in it of approaching spring. A dim light fell over the forest from the half-moon and the stars, and seemed to fill up the little clearing in which the manse stood, with a weird and mysterious radiance. Far away in the forest the long-drawn howl of a wolf rose and fell, and in a moment sharp and clear came an answer from the bush just at hand. Mrs. Murray dreaded the wolves, but she was no coward and scorned to show fear.
"The wolves are out, Ranald," she said, carelessly, as Ranald came up with the pony.
"They are not many, I think," answered the boy as carelessly; "but-- are you--do you think--perhaps I could just take the medicine--and you will come--"
"Nonsense, Ranald! bring up the pony. Do you think I have lived all this time in Indian Lands to be afraid of a wolf?"
"Indeed, you are not afraid, I know that well!" Ranald shrank from laying the crime of being afraid at the door of the minister's wife, whose fearlessness was proverbial in the community; "but maybe--" The truth was, Ranald would rather be alone if the wolves came out.
But Mrs. Murray was in the saddle, and the pony was impatient to be off.
"We will go by the Camerons' clearing, and then take their wood track. It is a better road," said Ranald, after they had got through the big gate.
"Now, Ranald, you think I am afraid of the swamp, and by the Camerons' is much longer."
"Indeed, I hear them say that you are not afraid of the--of anything," said Ranald, quickly, "but this road is better for the horses."
"Come on, then, with your colt"; and the pony darted away on her quick-springing gallop, followed by the colt going with a long, easy, loping stride. For a mile they kept side by side till they reached the Camerons' lane, when Ranald held in the colt and allowed the pony to lead. As they passed through the Camerons' yard the big black dogs, famous bear-hunters, came baying at them. The pony regarded them with indifference, but the colt shied and plunged.
"Whoa, Liz!" Liz was Ranald's contraction for Lizette, the name of the French horse-trainer and breeder, Jules La Rocque, gave to her mother, who in her day was queen of the ice at L'Original Christmas races.
"Be quate, Nigger, will you!" The dogs, who knew Ranald well, ceased their clamor, but not before the kitchen door opened and Don Cameron came out.
Don was about a year older than Ranald and was his friend and comrade.
"It's me, Don--and Mrs. Murray there."
Don gazed speechless.
"And what--" he began.
"Father is not well. He is hurted, and Mrs. Murray is going to see him, and we must go."
Ranald hurried through his story, impatient to get on.
"But are you going up through the bush?" asked Don.
"Yes, what else, Don?" asked Mrs. Murray. "It is a good road, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose it is good enough," said Don, doubtfully, "but I heard--"
"We will come out at our own clearing at the back, you know," Ranald hurried to say, giving Don a kick. "Whist, man! She is set upon going." At that moment away off toward the swamp, which they were avoiding, the long, heart-chilling cry of a mother wolf quavered on the still night air. In spite of herself, Mrs. Murray shivered, and the boys looked at each other.
"There is only one," said Ranald in a low voice to Don, but they both knew that where the she wolf is there is a pack not far off. "And we will be through the bush in five minutes."
"Come, Ranald! Come away, you can talk to Don any time. Good night, Don." And so saying she headed her pony toward the clearing and was off at a gallop, and Ranald, shaking his head at his friend, ejaculated:
"Man alive! what do you think of that?" and was off after the pony.
Together they entered the bush. The road was well beaten and the horses were keen to go, so that before many minutes were over they were half through the bush. Ranald's spirits rose and he began to take some interest in his companion's observations upon the beauty of the lights and shadows falling across their path.
"Look at that very dark shadow from the spruce there, Ranald," she cried, pointing to a deep, black turn in the road. For answer there came from behind them the long, mournful hunting-cry of the wolf. He was on their track. Immediately it was answered by a chorus of howls from the bush on the swamp side, but still far away. There was no need of command; the pony sprang forward with a snort and the colt followed, and after a few minutes' running, passed her.
"Whow-oo-oo-oo-ow" rose the long cry of the pursuer, summoning help, and drawing nearer.
"Wow-ee-wow," came the shorter, sharper answer from the swamp, but much nearer than before and more in front. They were trying to head off their prey.
Ranald tugged at his colt till he got him back with the pony.
"It is a good road," he said, quietly; "you can let the pony go. I will follow you." He swung in behind the pony, who was now running for dear life and snorting with terror at every jump.
"God preserve us!" said Ranald to himself. He had caught sight of a dark form as it darted through the gleam of light in front.
"What did you say, Ranald?" The voice was quiet and clear.
"It is a great pony to run whatever," said Ranald, ashamed of himself.
"Is she not?"
Ranald glanced over his shoulder. Down the road, running with silent, awful swiftness, he saw the long, low body of the leading wolf flashing through the bars of moonlight across the road, and the pack following hard.
"Let her go, Mrs. Murray," cried Ranald. "Whip her and never stop." But there was no need; the pony was wild with fear, and was doing her best running.
Ranald meantime was gradually holding in the colt, and the pony drew away rapidly. But as rapidly the wolves were closing in behind him. They were not more than a hundred yards away, and gaining every second. Ranald, remembering the suspicious nature of the brutes, loosened his coat and dropped it on the road; with a chorus of yelps they paused, then threw themselves upon it, and in another minute took up the chase.
But now the clearing was in sight. The pony was far ahead, and Ranald shook out his colt with a yell. He was none too soon, for the pursuing pack, now uttering short, shrill yelps, were close at the colt's heels. Lizette, fleet as the wind, could not shake them off. Closer and ever closer they came, snapping and snarling. Ranald could see them over his shoulder. A hundred yards more and he would reach his own back lane. The leader of the pack seemed to feel that his chances were slipping swiftly away. With a spurt he gained upon Lizette, reached the saddle-girths, gathered himself in two short jumps, and sprang for the colt's throat. Instinctively Ranald stood up in his stirrups, and kicking his foot free, caught the wolf under the jaw. The brute fell with a howl under the colt's feet, and next moment they were in the lane and safe.
The savage brutes, discouraged by their leader's fall, slowed down their fierce pursuit, and hearing the deep bay of the Macdonalds' great deerhound, Bugle, up at the house, they paused, sniffed the air a few minutes, then turned and swiftly and silently slid into the dark shadows. Ranald, knowing that they would hardly dare enter the lane, checked the colt, and wheeling, watched them disappear.
"I'll have some of your hides some day," he cried, shaking his fist after them. He hated to be made to run.
He had hardly set the colt's face homeward when he heard something tearing down the lane to meet him. The colt snorted, swerved, and then dropping his ears, stood still. It was Bugle, and after him came Mrs. Murray on the pony.
"Oh, Ranald!" she panted, "thank God you are safe. I was afraid you--you--" Her voice broke in sobs. Her hood had fallen back from her white face, and her eyes were shining like two stars. She laid her hand on Ranald's arm, and her voice grew steady as she said: "Thank God, my boy, and thank you with all my heart. You risked your life for mine. You are a brave fellow! I can never forget this!"
"Oh, pshaw!" said Ranald, awkwardly. "You are better stuff than I am. You came back with Bugle. And I knew Liz could beat the pony whatever. Then they walked their horses quietly to the stable, and nothing more was said by either of them; but from that hour Ranald had a friend ready to offer life for him, though he did not know it then nor till years afterward.